Bad Boys for Life (Columbia Pictures, R)

Bad Boys for Life is a MICHAEL BAY movie in all caps, with all of the things that description entails. Over the top action, check. Hyper violent, check. Average plot overshadowed by character acting, check. Boobs and butts, check. Truly, everything that Michael Bay loves to throw on screen is thrown on screen here, and, unsurprisingly, it works.

Releasing a hefty sixteen and a half years after Bad Boys II, Bad Boys for Life picks right back up with dynamic duo Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith, Bad Boys II, Gemini Man). The buddy cops have aged and with that age has come several things. For Marcus, having become a grandfather in the first moments of the film, that age comes with an impetus to find an end point. He wants to retire, find a hobby, and live out the rest of his life in peace. For Mike, that age comes with something wholly different: enemies.

As one would expect in a third film in a series about cops busting crime lords, there are surely people who want revenge. Cut to prison break scene, introduce characters with “history,” cut to massive chests of money off the coast of Miami, introduction of primary antagonist complete. If Michael Bay (6 Underground, The Island) has nailed one thing down in his directorial style, it is the expositional montage. The quick camera cuts, close-up wide-angle lenses, static foreground. Honestly, it’s hard to get more than a few minutes into a Bay movie and not know, unequivocally, that you are watching a Bay movie.

The Bad Boys’ new enemy is ruthless, quick, and knows everything about their past. The following path of destruction is personal. It is an interesting shift for the Bad Boys films. Though the first two films certainly have “stakes”, you could argue that those stakes were more distant. The influx of drugs in Miami in Bad Boys II is certainly a problem, but not a unique one, and also not one that is particularly surprising. In fact, the original Bad Boys also focused on drug busts, after all, Burnett and Lowrey were on the Narcotics team. Bad Boys for Life casts the drug trade out of the spotlight, and instead focuses on relationships. The result is a surprisingly personal movie.

That isn’t to say that this film is very different than its predecessors, though. Sure, the plot is far more focused on the people involved with our hero detectives, but to say the story takes the driver’s seat on this one would be disingenuous. Let’s be completely clear: Bad Boys for Life is about shootouts, fast cars, and explosions. It is an action movie, plain and straight.

The progression of time since the last film means that the way the police operate has changed, introducing a new branch of the Miami Police Department based in technology, surveillance, and data hounding called AMMO (the acronym escapes me), led by Mike Lowrey’s former girlfriend Rita (Paola Nuñez, The Son). The AMMO team is young and exists as a foil to Mike and Marcus’s old school method of kicking down doors and beating information out of suspects. Really, AMMO is the perfect metaphor for the whole film’s subplot. Out with the old in with the new. Except, the old “ain’t going nowhere.”

The AMMO team brings in Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Spring Breakers), Alexander Ludwig (Hunger Games, Vikings), and Charles Melton (Riverdale, The Sun is Also a Star), and their dynamic just works. It’s actually a little frustrating how much this movie, despite intermingling flaws and some two-dimensional performances, just works. Martin Lawrence can’t hold down a scene as well as Will Smith (no offense to Lawrence, it’s just a fact) but just as I started to really pick apart a subpar couple of lines, in swoops Will Smith’s Lowrey to distract me. Less than stellar jokes are often complimented by explosions or fast-cut car and motorcycle chases. Michael Bay has somehow built a movie around its own flaws in such a way that it saves itself from being a drag far more often than most films can. Almost every time I started to think, “mehhh…” I got distracted by pretty colors and loud noises. It was kind of infuriating, but I loved it.

For fans of the original two movies, Bad Boys for Life is going to feel like a return to a simpler time. Blood and guts, guns and cars, Mike and Marcus. The dynamic duo is still dynamic, even if they are old enough to be grandpas. As I would recommend with most of Bay’s films: Turn your thinking brain off and turn your teenage brain back on. Let the carnage and profanity wash over you. If this is your first Bad Boys movie experience, welcome to the spectacle, don’t think too hard, just sit back and enjoy ride.

After all: We ride together, we die together. | Caleb

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